A chance for the Tea Party

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One of the biggest things the Tea Party has sought in Virginia has been the opportunity to put its cause before the people of the commonwealth. Following the weekend’s Republican convention in Richmond, when Tea Party conservatives pushed through one of the most conservative tickets for statewide candidates in recent memory, they will get their wish. In the process, Virginia will become a test case for the viability of the Tea Party’s back-to-the-Constitution ideal.

Republicans in a closed convention unsurprisingly chose Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to lead the ticket as their candidate for governor, standing against Democrat Terry McAulliffe for Virginia’s top statewide office. Cuccinelli is well known around the nation for his staunchly conservative credentials — he filed the first legal challenge to nationalized health care, and his opposition to abortion is part of the reason the General Assembly was able to pass legislation that is resulting in the closure of some abortion clinics around the commonwealth.

What came as something of a surprise from the convention, however, are the strongly conservative credentials of the Republican Party’s nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general. E.W. Jackson, a black Chesapeake minister who ran unsuccessfully for Republican Senate nomination in 2012, was chosen to stand for the second-highest statewide office in a raucous vote that followed what the Washington Post deemed a “full-throated appeal for limited government, traditional families and gun rights.”

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

State Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg was selected to represent the party in the run for the attorney general’s office. Obenshain led the fight for stricter voter identification rules during the 2013 General Assembly session, and he’s made it clear he’s itching to continue Cuccinelli’s fight against Obamacare.

There could hardly be a statewide ticket more suitable to the Tea Party. And the commonwealth’s Democrats, who have missed no opportunity during the past four years to label Tea Partiers as angry crankpots who are out of touch with the mainstream, have wasted no time labeling the Virginia Republican ticket as “extreme” and “dangerous.” Pundits have hurried to join the fray by fretting that Republicans are sealing their doom by refusing to move to the center following their defeats in Virginia last November.

It remains to be seen whether Virginians will agree with the Democrats’ assessment of the Republican candidates. Further, it remains to be seen whether the Republicans’ selections last weekend are the last gasp of a dying party or the first inhalation of a resuscitated conservatism asserting itself in a party that had lost its way.

Regarding the answers to those questions, Virginia’s election will likely be a bellwether for the Tea Party movement around the nation. Democrats and national pundits have written the movement off as irrelevant, unrepresentative and doomed to failure. By choosing such a conservative ticket, Virginia Republicans have assured the commonwealth’s statewide election in November will go a long way toward rewriting that narrative or confirming it.